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Paul Carlucci

Write On Ottawa: Localish writer Paul Carlucci reflects on memories, settings and characters in new collection

By Alessandro Marcon on January 27, 2017

Editor’s note, this interview contains a slur for sex workers.

Paul Carlucci is a lad from the Valley, once a journalist, now a fiction writer but always a traveler of the world and worlds.

9781487000110_1024x1024Having grown up with Paul in Deep River, becoming friends principally through our creatively terrible band called The Gravy, I’ve been fortunate to hear and read Paul’s exuberant stories over the years. Paul’s first collection was published by Ottawa’s Oberon and won the Danuta Gleed Award.

His second, A Plea for Constant Motion, has just been released by House of Anansi. Plea is far from a comfortable collection.

The worlds concocted in these pages are teeming with often nefarious forces, simultaneously competing to flex their wills and stretch out their egos. Characters here cheat, steal, lie, manipulate, and abuse one another. They also strive to contend with their environments, to scratch out their own paths, to act in a way that makes sense in the circumstance.

Because of these struggles, but more importantly because of the way Paul’s scintillating writing brings these struggles to life, a reader finds oneself transported one not just to unknown locations with new landmarks and customs, but rather to unique, psychologically layered universes of powerful fears, small wins and sardonic humour. You might not like all the places you’ll go and the company you’ll keep, but like in the clutches of a good horror flick, you’ll find yourself gripped and shaken – key tenets of what makes art and writing worthwhile and engaging.

Apt613: Lots of time usually passes between first drafts of stories and final publication, especially in the case of a collection of stories, like Plea. What do you remember most about writing these stories? 

Carlucci: Yeah, hm. Some of them definitely have weird connections with my memory. A lot of the stories that overtly use setting inevitably remind me of the places where they’re set. There is, for example, a hooker hotel called the Zoloft in Takoradi, just as there is in Behind Both Sides of a Door. I went there once with a local reporter; we were trying to research a story about child prostitution, and I can picture the inside of that bar in sharp little shots.

All throughout writing and editing The Black Dogs Are Death, I had these really crisp visuals of the lane behind the place I rented in Lusaka, little bits of trash and ruts in the road and that kind of thing. There are a couple stories that bring my British Columbia memories to mind, and there’s one that reminds me of the looking off the escarpment in Hamilton, Ontario. Wherever setting plays a role, the settings are more vividly contained in my memory than in places I’ve lived but haven’t written about. I guess the flip side of that is that the memories bring with them a bit of baggage. The place has been written about, which means it’s been put through my inner machinery, and that tends to mean it’s been judged in some way, so it’s no longer new.

Interesting you say that. I find there’s very rich interplay between the characters and their surroundings in these stories. Environments here kind of swarm or smother the characters, often inflicting harm or terror upon them. What intrigues you about this predominant theme of being trapped?

I guess I relate to it. I’ve known a lot of inertia, unfortunately. Paralysis has some universal causes and effects, like factors that you recognize no matter where you happen to physically be. I’m thinking of baseline personality characteristics here, like maybe you’re prone to frustration or something. At the same time, there are environmental particulars, too. If you’re stuck in a city with an anemic job market, for example, then whatever else your trap may consist of, it’ll also include a sketchy boss, a scumbag landlord, and unaffordable nights at a bar near you. If, on the other hand, you’re gainfully employed in a tiny, conservative East Coast town, then you may find your trap includes social isolation and fatigue of proud people. 

So there’s that stuff, that man-made stuff. Then there are the physical characteristics of a place. Everything else seems kind of rooted in that, or at least it does having grown up in a country that’s forever ripping stuff out of the ground or water for money. People come across one physical feature or another, learn to exploit it, and then economics and politics flow from there. but the physical stuff still has a sort of supra-human feeling, like if it’s insanely hot, or just as cold, or you’re on an island but you don’t have so much as a rowboat.

Then you’re not just up against a bunch of jerks who hate you, but a landscape that doesn’t care either way.

The interesting thing seems to be that any one place takes on trap-like qualities if I’m in it for too long. Routines and patterns and the like. So it can be tempting to keep moving, keep exploring. But I guess that’s a bit of a trap in itself. You’re logging mad mileage, but you’re not developing the kinds of relationships at work and at home that a lot of people ultimately find liberating.

Seeing as this collection is rife with absurd, outlandish, and hilarious characters, let’s have a prance with’m. Which character from Plea

…would you least like to pick you up while hitchhiking across Canada? 

That would have to be Randy, given his hobbies.

…will certainly go through an immense dark patch before achieving some glory later in life?

Well, that would have to be Trevor, but minus the later glory. 

…hits the hardest?

I’m gonna guess Giuseppe could mush up a few faces if you pushed him too far. 

…sometimes pops into your mind and puts a smile on your face?

Toss up between Del and Bolek.  

…could really benefit from the company of a puppy?

We all benefit from puppies, everyone one of us, but if we were Richard, we might benefit most.